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that should have interrupted them in their business, and their pleasures, with a solemn lecture on death and eternity. Yet they were then on the very borders of both. You have since seen their corpses, or at least their coffins; and probably carried about with you the badges of mourning, which you received at their funerals. Those once vigorous, and perhaps beautiful bodies of theirs, now lie mouldering in the dust; as senseless, and helpless, as the most decrepid pieces of human nature, which fourscore years ever brought down to it. And what is infinitely more to be regarded, their souls, whether prepared for this great change, or thoughtless of it, have made their appearance before God, and are at this moment, fixed either in heaven or hell. Now let me seriously ask yon, would it be miraculous, or would it be strange, if such an event should befal you? How are you sure, that some fatal disease shall not this day begin to work in your veins? How are you sure, that you shall ever be capable of reading or thinking any more, if you do not attend to what you now read, and pursue the thought which is now offering itself to your mind? This sudden alteration may at least possibly happen; and if it does, it will be to you a terrible one indeed. To be thus surprised into the presence of a forgotten God, to be torn away, at once, from a world, to which your whole heart and soul has been rivetted; a world, which has engrossed all your thoughts, and cares, all your desires and pursuits; and be fixed in a state, which you never could be so far persuaded to think of, as to spend so much as one hour in serious preparation for it: how must you even shudder at the apprehension of it, and with what horror must it fill you? It seems matter of wonder, that in such circumstances, you are not almost distracted with the thoughts of the uncertainty of life, and are not even ready to die for fear of death. To trifle with God any longer, after so solemn an admonition as this, would be a circumstance of additional provocation, which, after all the rest, might be fatal: nor is there any thing you can expect in such a case, but that he should cut you off immediately, and teach other thoughtless creatures, by your ruin, what a hazardous experiment they make, when they act as you are acting.
§. 5. And will you, after all, run this desperate risk? For what imaginable purpose can you do it? Do you think, the business of religion will become less necessary or more easy, by your delay? You know that it will not. You know that whatever the blessed God demands now, he will also demand twenty or thirty years hence, if you should live to see the time. God
hath fixed the method, in which he will pardon and accept sinners, in his gospel. And will he ever alter that method? Or if he will not, can men alter it? You like not to think of repenting, and humbling yourself before God, to receive righteousness and life from his free grace in Christ; and you above all dislike the thought of returning to God in the ways of holy obedience. But will he ever dispense with any of these, and publish a new gospel, with promises of life and salvation to impenitent unbelieving sinners, if they will but call themselves christians, and submit to a few external rites? How long, do you think, you might wait for such a change in the constitution of things? You know, death will come upon you; and you cannot but know in your own conscience, that a general dissolution will come upon the world, long before God can thus deny himself, and contradict all his perfections, and all his declarations.
§. 6. Or if his demands continue the same, as they assuredly will, do you think any thing, which is now disagreeable to you in them, will be less disagreeable hereafter, than it is at present? Shall you love sin less, when it is become more habitual to you, and when conscience is yet more enfeebled and debauched? If you are running with the footmen and fainting, shall you be able to contend with the horsemen*. Surely you cannot imagine it. You would not say, in any distemper which threatened your life, "I will stay till I grow a little worse, and then I will apply to a physician; I will let my disease get a little more rooted in my vitals, and then I will try what can be done to remove it." No, it is only where the life of the soul is concerned, that men think thus wildly: the life and health of the body appear too precious, to be thus trifled away.
§. 7. If after such desperate experiments you are ever recovered, it must be by an operation of divine grace on your soul, yet more powerful and more wonderful in proportion to the increasing inveteracy of your spiritual maladies. And can you expect, that the Holy Spirit should be more ready to assist you, in consequence of your having so shamefully trifled with him, and affronted him? He is now, in some measure, moving on your heart: if you feel any secret relentings in it upon what you read, it is a sign you are not yet utterly forsaken. But who can tell, whether these are not the last touches he will ever give to a heart so long hardened against him? Who can tell, but God may this day swear in his wrath that you shall not enter into his rest. I
+ Heb. iii. 18.
* Jer. xii. 5.
have been telling you, that you may immediately die. You own it is possible you may. And can you think of any thing more terrible? Yes, sinner, I will tell you of one thing more dreadful than immediate death and immediate damnation. The
blessed God may say, "As for that wretched creature, who has so long trifled with me, and provoked me, let him still live: let him live in the midst of prosperity and plenty let him live under the purest, and most powerful ordinances of the gospel too; that he may abuse them, to aggravate his condemnation, and die under sevenfold guilt, and a sevenfold curse. I will not give him the grace to think of his ways for one serious moment more; but he shall go on from bad to worse, filling up the measure of his iniquities, till death and destruction seize him in an unexpected hour, and wrath come upon him to the uttermost* §. 8. You think this an uncommon case; but I fear it is much otherwise. I fear there are few congregations, where the word of God has been faithfully preached, and where it has been long despised, especially by those whom it had once awakened, in which the eye of God does not see a number of such wretched souls; though it is impossible for us to pronounce upon the case who they are.
§. 9. I pretend not to say, how he will deal with you, oh reader; whether he will immediately cut you off, or seal you up under final hardness and impenitency of heart; or whether his grace may, at length, awaken you, to consider your ways, and return to him, even when your heart is grown yet more obdurate than it is at present. For to his almighty grace nothing is hard, not even to transform a rock of marble into a man and a saint. But this I will confidently say, that if you delay any longer, the time will come when you will bitterly repent of that delay; and either lament it before God in the anguish of your heart here, or curse your own folly and madness in hell; yea, when you will wish, that, dreadful as hell is, you had rather fallen into it sooner, than have lived in the midst of so many abused mercies, to render the degree of your punishment more insupportable, and your sense of it more exquisitely tormenting.
§. 10. I do therefore earnestly exhort you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the worth, and, if I may so speak, by the blood of your immortal and perishing soul, that you delay not a day, or an hour, longer. Far from giving sleep to your eyes, or slumber to your eyelids,† in the continued neglect
+ Prov. vi. 4.
* 1 Thess. ii. 16.
of this important concern, take with you, even now, words, and turn unto the Lord;* and before you quit the place where you now are, fall upon your knees in his sacred presence, and pour out your heart in such language, or at least to some such purpose, as this:
A Prayer for one, who is tempted to delay applying to Religion, though under some Convictions of its Importance.
"OH thou righteous and holy sovereign of heaven and earth! Thou God, in whose hand my breath is, and whose are all my ways! I confess, I have been far from glorifying thee, or conducting myself according to the intimations or the declarations of thy will. I have therefore reason to adore thy forbearance and goodness, that thou hast not long since stopped my breath, and cut me off from the land of the living. I adore thy patience, that I have not months and years ago, been an inhabitant of hell, where ten thousand delaying sinners are now lamenting their folly, and will be lamenting it for ever. But oh God, how possible is it, that this trifling heart of mine may, at length, betray me into the same ruin! and then, alas, into a ruin aggravated by all this patience and forbearance of thine! I am convinced, that sooner or later religion must be my serious care, or I am undone. And yet my foolish heart draws back from the yoke: yet I stretch myself upon the bed of sloth, and cry out for a little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to sleept. Thus does my corrupt heart plead for its own indulgence, against the convictions of my better judgment. What shall I say! O Lord, save me from myself! Save me from the artifices and deceitfulness of sin: save me from the treachery of this perverse and degenerate nature of mine, and fix upon my mind what I have now been reading.
"O Lord, I am not now instructed in truths which were before quite unknown. Often have I been warned of the uncertainty of life, and of the greater uncertainty of the day of salvation; and I have formed some light purposes, and have begun to take a few irresolute steps in my way towards a return to thee. But alas, I have been only, as it were, fluttering about religion, and have never fixed upon it. All my resolutions have been scattered like smoke, or dispersed like a cloudy vapour before the wind. Oh that thou wouldst now bring these things home to my heart, with a more powerful conviction than it hath ever
Hos. xiv, 2.
+ Dan. v. 23.
Prov. vi, 10.
yet felt! Oh that thou wouldst pursue me with them, even when I flee from them! If I should ever grow mad enough to endeavour to escape them any more, may thy spirit address me in the language of effectual terror; and add all the most powerful methods, which thou knowest to be necessary, to awaken me from this lethargy, which must otherwise be mortal! May the sound of these things be in mine ears, when I go out, and when I come in, when I lie down, and when I rise up* And if the repose of the night, and the business of the day, be for a while interrupted by the impression, be it so, O God! if I may but thereby carry on my business with thee to better purpose, and at length secure a repose in thee, instead of all that terror which I now find, when I think upon God, and am troubled†.
O Lord, my flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am affraid of thy judgments. I am affraid lest even now, that I have begun to think of religion, thou shouldst cut me off in this critical and important moment, before my thoughts grow to any ripeness; and blast in eternal death, the first buddings and openings of it in my mind. But oh spare me, I earnestly intreat thee; for thy mercies' sake, spare me a little longer! It may be through thy grace, I shall return. It may be, if thou continuest thy patience towards me a little longer, there may be some better fruit produced by this cumberer of the ground. And may the remembrance of that long forbearance, which thou hast already exercised towards me, prevent my continuing to trifle with thee, and with my own soul! From this day, O Lord, from this hour, from this moment, may I be able to date more lasting impressions of religion, than have ever yet been made upon my heart by all that I have ever read, or all that I have heard! Amen."